Mukhtar Mai recounts emotions
MEERWALA, March 27,2005: Mukhtar Mai wept for an hour when she learned on March 3 that the men convicted of raping her would walk free. But the worst moment came the next morning when she rode through her village in a taxi. “I could see the happiness in people’s faces as if they were making fun of me,” Mai said in an interview with the Washington Post published on March 25.
That attitude reflected the satisfaction of some villagers over a court decision that threw out the convictions of four men sentenced to death for raping Mai on the orders of a tribal council on June 22, 2002.
The council, according to testimony, had ordered the rape to settle a score with Mai’s teenage brother, who had been accused of an improper relationship with the sister of one of the accused men.
The case sparked international outrage and an outpouring of sympathy for Mai, an illiterate labourer’s daughter who now runs two primary schools in her village with help from the government and private donors. The court decision overturning the convictions of the four men — as well as two others linked to the episode — rekindled anger about the case and raised fears for the safety of Mai, who lives under 24-hour police protection.
Concern for Mai has receded somewhat since the accused men were rearrested on March 18 pending a review of the evidence against them by the Supreme Court. But the case remains a focal point of public anger over the failure of the criminal justice system to deal adequately with perpetrators of violence against women in this conservative Islamic country.
In overturning the convictions in Mai’s case, the Lahore High Court cited her failure to report the rape for seven days, unreliable medical evidence and contradictions in statements by the victim and witnesses. It asserted that Mai’s story did “not ring true” and that “the possibility of fabrication and false implication cannot be ruled out”.
The prosecutor in the case, Ramzan Khalid Joya, said there was no question the gang rape occurred, describing the statements’ contradictions as “petty” and the medical evidence as persuasive. But Joya acknowledged that the police investigation left much to be desired and even suggested that the Lahore court was justified in overturning the convictions he won at a lower level in 2002.
“It was a case which was badly investigated by the local police,” Joya said in an interview on March 21. “They conducted the investigation in a casual manner.”
News of the high court’s decision to release the convicted men this month set off joyful celebrations among the Mastoi, who blocked traffic and passed out sweets on the day the acquittals were announced. After his release, one of the accused hosted a feast for 500 people, said Mohammed Siddique, the government administrator for Meerwala and adjacent villages.
“I was very hurt,” Washington Post quoted Mai as saying. “I could understand why the Mastois would do it because they were uneducated and illiterate, but judges? It totally shattered my confidence.”
She said even some of her relatives adopted an I-told-you-so attitude, saying she should have accepted financial offers — conveyed through intermediaries — from the Mastois to drop the case when she had the chance. “One of the biggest courts in the country couldn’t protect you,” Mai quoted one of her uncles as saying. “Now what will you do?”
“The government is playing to the public,” WP quoted said Khalida Parveen, a local human rights activist involved in the case. “As long as justice is delayed, these accused will find more and more space to manoeuvre, and the case will continue to drag on.”
But Mai said she had not given up hope and had no regrets about her decision to pursue the case — if not for herself, then at least for the sake of her village.
“If a girl is raped in my society, she commits suicide or she flees,” WP quoted Mai as saying. “If I had chosen either of those two options, the process of change that has begun in this remote area wouldn’t have started.”
Mai said she took particular satisfaction in the rapid growth of enrolment in the girls’ school, which is approaching 200 students. Among them is the young daughter of one of the men convicted of raping her.
Source: Daily Times